Marshes. Swamps. Bogs. Outdoor areas that conjure up images of mud, smells of decaying plants, and pools of seemingly stagnant water. Not the type of outdoor area most people usually seek when going for a hike. But wetlands have been unfairly characterized.
February 2, 2017 is World Wetlands Day, and here in Fairfax County we actually have two public wetland areas, Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve and Huntley Meadows Park. Exploration of these two areas will quickly reveal that wetlands, the broad term used to describe land consisting of marshes or swamps also known as “saturated land,” have been given a bad rap.
The theme for this year’s World Wetlands Day is “Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction.” The Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for worldwide cooperation on wetlands protection, calls wetlands “nature’s shock absorbers” for their ability to control flooding, buffer storms, filter pollutants and provide habitat. They are clearly a vital part of our ecosystem.
And precisely because of their wet nature (pardon the pun) they have an unusual diversity of life forms which makes exploring these areas especially rewarding. According to the Defenders of Wildlife, more than one-third of the federally listed species on the Endangered Species Act rely directly, or indirectly, on wetlands for their survival.
Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve is one of the largest remaining freshwater tidal wetlands in the Washington metropolitan area. Its 485 acres of tidal marsh, floodplain, and swamp forest can be explored by boat or on foot. Dyke Marsh is home to many species that can only survive in wetlands. For more information, go to https:// www.nps.gov/gwmp/planyourvisit/dykemarsh.htm.
Huntley Meadows Park is 1,500 acres and claims to have some of the best wildlife watching in the Washington metropolitan area with a half-mile wetland boardwalk trail and an observation tower. For more information go to http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/huntley-meadows-park/.
Like many of the natural areas in densely populated Fairfax County, litter is a persistent problem in both these wetlands. The Friends of Dyke Marsh works to protect its natural beauty in cooperation with the National Park Service. The Friends of Huntley Meadows works with the Fairfax County Park Authority to sustain this important wildlife area. Find out how you can support the Friends
of Dyke Marsh at https://www.fodm.org/ or Huntley Meadows at http://www.friendsofhuntleymeadows.org/index.html#.
Celebrate World Wetlands Day and take the time to explore these vital wetland treasures here in Fairfax County!